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Learning from Legal Precedents: Why ISO 27001 Certification Matters for Private Schools' Software Vendors

Paul Organ

March 26, 2024

Protecting Student Data

In recent years, private schools have found themselves embroiled in legal battles stemming from data breaches, privacy violations, and cybersecurity incidents. This risk is accelerating due to a lag in technological updates at schools. These incidents not only incur financial penalties but also tarnish the reputation and credibility of the institutions involved.

To mitigate the risk of legal implications and safeguard sensitive student data, private schools must prioritize partnering with software vendors certified to ISO 27001 and ISO 27018 standards. 

Risks for Private Schools using Uncertified School Management Systems

Here are real-world instances where private schools face legal repercussions and how selecting software vendors with ISO 27001 and ISO 27018 certification could have helped prevent or mitigate these risks.

Data Breach Litigation

Depiction of a data breach

A survey undertaken in 2019 found that 61% of UK Independent Schools have been targeted for cyber-attacks in the last five years.  Including one in 2023 which saw 14 schools in the UK hacked which resulted in Confidential Docs Leaked by hackers. The breaches can result in significant legal expenses, damages, and reputational harm to the schools. By selecting software vendors with ISO 27001 certification, the schools could be certain that their selected partners are doing their best to implement robust security measures to prevent unauthorized access and protect sensitive data, reducing the likelihood of a breach and potential litigation.

Regulatory Non-Compliance

ISO 27001 certification helps private schools comply with various data protection and privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU. Private schools risk being fined by governing bodies like the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for non-compliance with data protection regulations. Although many are not aware, a lot of private/independent schools fail to implement adequate security measures to protect student information, which is a breach of various Data Protection Acts/Requirements globally. ISO 27001 certification demonstrates a vendor's commitment to compliance with regulatory requirements, helping private schools mitigate the risk of fines, penalties, and legal sanctions for non-compliance.

Cyber Extortion and Ransomware Attacks

Avoiding cyber extortion and ransomware

Private schools like St Augustine Academy in the UK, have increasingly become targets of cyber extortion schemes, including ransomware attacks that encrypt critical data and demand payment for its release. If your software vendors are not protecting the information of your students correctly, it puts you at risk of it being leaked and held against you. ISO 27001-certified vendors employ proactive measures to mitigate the risk of ransomware attacks, including regular data backups, network segmentation, and employee training, thereby reducing the likelihood of extortion and legal entanglements.

Third-Party Liability

Private schools may also face legal liabilities arising from the actions of their third-party vendors, including software providers. In a case where a vendor failed to adequately secure student data, a private school could be held accountable for negligence or breach of contract. By conducting due diligence and selecting ISO 27001-certified vendors, schools can mitigate the risk of third-party liabilities and demonstrate a proactive approach to vendor management and risk mitigation.

Reputational Damage and Loss of Trust

We have a responsibility to safeguard our student data

Beyond legal implications, data breaches and cybersecurity incidents can inflict lasting damage to a private school's reputation and erode trust among students, parents, and stakeholders. A tarnished reputation can have far-reaching consequences, including declining enrollment, donor attrition, and diminished competitiveness. By prioritizing the selection of ISO 27001-certified software vendors, private schools can mitigate the risk of reputational damage by demonstrating their commitment to protecting sensitive data and upholding the highest standards of information security.

Learning from Legal Precedents

Student data should be treated with the utmost care and responsibility by its stewards. Now that educational technology is a mainstay in modern education, we as school leaders must educate ourselves on the risks associated with technologies that interact with student data. When we choose to manage student data with educational technologies that do not adhere to the ISO 27001 and ISO 27018 certification standards, we introduce unnecessary risks to the student data management processes.

It is imperative that private schools learn from legal precedents and take proactive measures to protect sensitive student data and mitigate the risk of legal implications when selecting vendors. ISO 27001 and ISO 27018 certifications offer a robust framework for enhancing data security, ensuring regulatory compliance, and safeguarding against cybersecurity risks. By choosing certified vendors like Orah, private schools can minimize the likelihood of data breaches, regulatory penalties, and reputational harm, thereby preserving trust and confidence in the institution's commitment to student privacy and data protection.

Conducting your own risk analysis

Is it worth the risk?

To ensure the security of student data at your school, it's essential to identify, classify, and prioritize the risks associated with adopting any student management system.

If your preferred vendor does not hold an ISO 27001 certification, we recommend conducting a risk assessment of your preferred vendor by mapping security controls with those set out in the ISO 27001 certification standard.

The primary aim of risk analysis is to identify the risks present in the system and determine the areas of weakness. Once identified, you can prioritize these risks based on the level of threat they pose to your school.

See how private schools use Orah to securely manage core school operations and improve student life

See why private schools like Eton College and Phillips Exeter Academy choose Orah to manage student life on campus.

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Paul Organ

I live in Auckland, New Zealand. I enjoy exercise, sauna's and cold plunges, video games and design. Prior to Orah (10 years ago now!) I was a University Student studying my Masters of Architecture. There are two important things that keep me enthused at work - Using creativity to solve complex problems and working with good people.

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